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Virtual Estate Planning: Your Digital Legacy

Virtual Estate Planning: Your Digital Legacy

In February 2015, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced the company’s plans to introduce a “legacy contact” feature to accounts .  The main purpose of this new user feature is to allow the account holder to nominate a friend or family member to manage their profile when they pass away.  The feature will enable the nominee to announce the user’s death, close the user’s account or keep it as a memorial. Since this announcement there has been much discussion on virtual estate planning.

It is undeniable that the virtual world is interweaving itself into the real world. We have money held in our PayPal accounts. We have our professional lives and business relationships collated in LinkedIn.  We access our utility bills and bank accounts online.  We have our personal lives and history stored in Facebook. 

In this information age our increasing reliance upon the virtual world in our business, personal and professional lives makes it crucial for us to consider how to protect and pass on our digital assets.  If you are wincing or feeling discomfort at this thought bear this in mind... would you rather the internet giants (eBay, Paypal, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter to name just a few) held onto what belongs to you? Would you prefer to leave a virtual void where fraudsters or hackers can gain access to your personal details on your online shopping accounts?

While traditional English and Scottish law Wills do not cover digital assets, there are a number of precautions that you can take in order to integrate your virtual assets into your estate planning model:

  1. In April 2015, The Law Society of England and Wales released an article urging people to leave clear instructions about what should happen to their digital assets after their death. They encouraged people to maintain an inventory of their digital assets including emails, bank accounts and investment portfolios to make it easier for family members to piece together their digital legacy.
  2. It is natural to want to pass your digital media products to your loved ones; however, you may be surprised to learn that some of the music, films and books that you purchase do not belong to you. Rather they are “borrowed” from the service provider and can only be used by the purchaser during their lifetime. The licence allowing you to download music on to your iTunes account, view books on your Kindle and watch films on your Amazon account expires on your death. Therefore, if you wish to leave your loved ones with a digital legacy it is important to familiarise yourself with the policies of the online service providers.
  3. Appoint someone you know and trust to manage your digital estate on your death. This can be the same person that you appoint to be your executor under your Will.
  4. Discuss your digital assets with your legal adviser and how these are to be dealt with on your death or incapacity as part of your overall estate planning when preparing your Will and/or Power of Attorney.

Notably, as our virtual presence grows so should our need to safeguard our digital assets.

If you have any queries on the contents of this blog or any related matter then please contact our Private Capital team who will be happy to assist.

Kundai Phute
Trainee Solicitor